Braves relief aces are taking it easier this spring

3 Comments

Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters were rode hard and put away wet last year. So this year, they’re taking it a bit easier heading into spring training. From the AJC:

It’s easy to suggest their first-half workload is what caused Kimbrel and Venters to struggle down the stretch, when they appeared to be operating on fumes some nights … But it’s also clear that Venters and Kimbrel are learning something about pace and preparation. They realize there is a purpose to spring training, and that is solely to prepare for the season … This year Venters and Kimbrel won’t enter spring training in midseason form, by design. Both spent the offseason doing more strength and conditioning, and less throwing.

That should help.  As should Fredi Gonzalez taking it a bit easier on them.  One thing not mentioned in the article but which also needs to happen:  the Braves have to freakin’ hit a little bit so they’re not constantly finding themselves in tie and one-run games like they did so often last season.

If Kimbrel and Venters are fresh all year, it means that the Braves will be in good shape. If run ragged again, forget it.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
21 Comments

The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.